recommended reading

White House weighs executive order on cybersecurity

White House photo

A week after cybersecurity legislation stalled in the Senate, a senior Obama administration official said on Wednesday that the White House is weighing an executive order to help bolster the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.

Following a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, John Brennan, the White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said the president has urged officials to continue to look for ways to use existing authority to bolster the nation’s cyberdefenses. His comments came a week after the Senate blocked cybersecurity legislation aimed at enhancing protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattack. 

“If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the president wants to make sure we’re doing everything possible,” Brennan said. “President Obama has told us after the Collins-Lieberman bill didn’t go forward to keep at it and keep pushing, and we are going to keep pushing on the Congress, but also we’re going to do what we can under executive-branch authorities.”

He did not say what actions the White House is considering, but former Homeland Security Department official Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson, said that some of what was included in the Senate bill aimed at protecting the nation’s power grid, transportation systems, and other critical infrastructure could be addressed using existing authority.

“By the time the Senate was done giving things away to the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce] and the privacy lobbies, [the bill wasn’t] doing too much more than we could do with existing authority,” Baker said in an interview on Wednesday.

At least one lawmaker has called on the White House to act on its own given the inability of Congress so far to pass cybersecurity legislation. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., wrote Obama on Wednesday calling on him to issue an executive order that would ensure utilities take necessary steps to protect the nation’s power grid from cyberattack.

“We should not wait for a crippling terrorist attack on our grid before we act,” Markey wrote. “If congressional Republicans insist on fully entrusting the safety of our grid to a utility industry that is ill-equipped to adequately and uniformly respond to threats and vulnerabilities that are of paramount importance to national security, then you can and must take action to mitigate these threats and vulnerabilities to the extent possible by executive order.”

The nation’s power grid is already under strain from the heat wave gripping most of the country but utilities and other critical infrastructure also are a prime target of hackers, Markey and Brennan both noted.

“The critical infrastructure of this country is under threat,” Brennan said. “We have to improve our defenses on this issue.”

Threatwatch Alert

Cyber espionage / Spear-phishing

Russia-Linked Hacker Unit Targets French Presidential Election

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.